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Wedding Advice, Weddings

April 4, 2014

Your memory may only be as good as your photos

If you’re planning a wedding, someone has probably told you to make sure you get a great photographer, because “when your wedding day is over, you’ll only have the pictures to remember it”.

This may seem a bit extreme, but cutting edge research on memory is proving this conventional wisdom to be startlingly accurate. 

I love learning about all kinds of things: science, nature, sociology, you name it. I enjoy podcasts in particular since I can listen to them while driving or editing photos. 

I recently listened to an episode of TED Radio Hour called Memory Games, which explores how our memories are “malleable, dynamic and elusive.”

The episode starts with the story of a man who was wrongly convicted of a crime based on six eyewitness testimonies. (I know this doesn’t sound like it has much to do with wedding photography, but stick with me.) After spending 21 years in jail, he was finally released after forensic psychologist, Scott Fraser, proved the six witnesses couldn’t have identified him. In fact, they couldn’t have seen much of anything during the crime because it was far too dark. It was only afterwards that their brains filled in (made up) the details of his face with the help of a police photo array. Their memories were reconstructed.

As it turns out, our brains are constantly reconstructing memories. This is true not only for high stress situations like crimes, but also for our everyday lives. According to Fraser, “All our memories, put simply, are reconstructed memories, and they’re constantly changing, even as we’re talking about them.”

How does this work? The NPR interviewer, Guy Raz, gave this example: “Sometimes, your mind plays tricks on you. You may have seen a photograph of yourself as a child, and that becomes a memory of something that happened that you remember, but there was almost no way you could have remembered it because you were three or four [years old].”

This immediately made me think about wedding photography. After all, if our memories are constantly changing and evolving, we need concrete reminders like photos more than we could have imagined. 

I decided to try a little experiment. I wanted to see which parts of my own wedding day I remembered almost five years later. 

I generally consider myself to have a pretty good memory for conversations and events, but as I thought back, I found I couldn’t recall most of the details of the morning. I did remember getting several gifts during that time, because I see them often in our home, but I couldn’t recall what I did, how I felt, what I was wearing, etc. 

I had much clearer memories starting when I got into my wedding dress, which was exactly when my photographer showed up. After that, I can recall each moment photo by photo. 

The reason is simple: I’ve looked at the photos of my wedding day every few months for almost five years. Every time I look at them, I am reaffirming my memories of that day. 

Imagine how much truer this will be in another twenty years! And then imagine where I’d be with no photos. 

It can be hard to convey this idea to the newly engaged. After all, they’re spending dozens of hours every week working on their wedding. When you’re nearly drowning in all those details, it’s hard to imagine you could ever forget them.

Here’s the truth: I can’t even remember what song we chose for our first dance. I asked my husband, and he doesn’t know either. Back when we were wedding planning, we spent a lot of time thinking about this and narrowing it down between several options, but all we recall now is how happy we were during that dance. (Our pictures show us laughing and hugging.) 

There are all kinds of details about your wedding day that you’ll forget once it’s over. The things you’ll remember are the moments captured in the photos. 

It makes me so happy when a couple figures this out early in the planning process, because it can save them from lots of unnecessary stress about those details.

To illustrate, here’s the story of Sarah (not her real name), a bride I recently met at a showcase. During our first conversation I advised her to make sure she looked at a full wedding (every single photo, not just the highlights) from her photographer before booking. I suggest this to anyone who’s engaged, even if they aren’t potential clients because I never want anyone to be disappointed with their wedding photos.

I followed up with Sarah to see if she wanted to set up a meeting. She wrote back that she had been very impressed with me, but her budget for photography was much lower than my starting rate. I thanked Sarah and wished her all the best with her wedding. A week later, she emailed me again. This time, it said:

“Hi Rachael, we are continuing to look at photographers and we were just able to see a whole wedding for a less expensive photographer. We liked it, but it still feels like it is missing something. So, we wanted to see a full wedding of yours.”

I happen to work at her venue a lot, so I sent her a similar wedding. She quickly wrote back saying how much she liked the photos and asked if we could chat on the phone. During our call, she told me that she had checked out several cheaper photographers and asked to see an entire wedding. She found that these vendors didn’t really capture everything they wanted.

She said my work captured the things that were most important to her. So she and her fiancé sat down and talked about their budget. They realized they were spending almost 1K to upgrade their dinner chairs, and they asked, what are we actually going to care about when this is all over? The chairs people sat on for a few hours—or the pictures we’ll have for the rest of our lives?

And then the choice was easy.

I was nearly jumping up and down when she told me this—not only because she wanted to work with me, but also because she was choosing something that would make her much happier over the long run. 

Let me be clear: I love beautiful chairs–not to mention gorgeous venues and flowers and makeup and hair and all the other things that go into a wedding. The point is not to slash these things from your budget. The point is to make sure you hire a photographer who can capture your wedding the way you want to remember it for the rest of your life. 

  1. Melissa says:

    AWESOME post. This is so true – and really underscores the importance of photography, not only for weddings, but also for our everyday lives!

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